First Fang

01 VW POLO GTI

BY LOUIS CORDONY

Now balances extra flab with more muscle

BY LOUIS CORDONY

IF THIS CAR launched just over a decade ago we’d be asking Volkswagen why it has mistakenly put Polo badges on a Golf GTI. That’s because this ‘little’ GTI now puts out figures that would match a Mk V Golf with the same legendary moniker.

Its turbocharged four-cylinder develops an identical 147kW but 40Nm more than its forebear. The outputs are pumped from the turbo 2.0-litre four-cylinder more commonly found in, as you might guess, a Golf GTI. When Renault Sport has shrunk the Megane’s engine to 1.8 litres, Ford has deleted a cylinder from the Fiesta ST, Wolfsburg’s decision to upsize from the 1.8-litre seems as surprising as swapping in a V8.

But the power injection seems less dramatic when you run a measuring over the new Polo’s sharp lines stretched surfaces. It’s grown in by 49mm, wheelbase by 90mm, length by 84mm. Given these increases unlock more interior space, compares the room inside to cars a segment larger.

On top of packing bigger muscles bones, it also brandishes special equipment reserved for luxury cars, like adaptive dampers and digital dash screens. The extra size and equipment mean a weight penalty of 43kg, though it still carries a hefty 80-odd kilograms less than the identically-powered Mk V Golf GTI.

Driving the all-new Polo GTI across North-East NSW’s best and worst roads hints its extra size hasn’t smothered its renowned giant-killing talent. In fact, engineers have broadened its performance envelope without diluting its small-car feel. A six-speed manual is available overseas, yet VW Oz believes buyers won’t crave it like the old one as the six-speed dual-clutch DSG variant now gets every one of the 320Nm that the manual does.

That’s no bad thing. The DSG handles the car’s muscly outputs with ease. It smoothly dispatches shifts mid-corner with its wheel-mounted paddles and matches wide ratios to the car’s thick power band. It also adds a blurt during upshifts to the Polo’s slightly anodyne growl. The turbo wastegate even sneezes out a choof, too.

Admittedly, it lacks the true control of a manual ’box, as it upshifts at its 6000rpm redline no matter what mode you’re in and the kick-down switch is too easy to hit under full throttle. It’s a bit lost on what gear to serve you at low speeds under part throttle in Drive, as well.

Nor does it feel much faster than before. The new Polo GTI, despite gaining 15kW and 40Nm, hasn’t lowered its claimed 0-100km/h time. The EA888 is dialled down from the viciousness delivered in a Golf R,yet still starts pulling hard at 2750rpm and doesn’t relent until redline. The speed delivered during the powerband’s linear climb up its rev range also makes light work of overtaking manoeuvres. And there’s plenty of grunt to overpower the front-axle from a standstill, traction control on or off.

Surprisingly, this front-drive hooliganism disappears in the bends. The car’s brake-activated ‘LSD’ quells wheelspin with smooth, but noticeable, operation, to help it dig in under traction, rather than scrabble from corners. With unique suspension geometry, links, and a stiffer setup for adaptive dampers, the Polo responds well when driven hard.

That outside front tyre doesn’t relent as you barrel into decreasing radius turns. This poise improves the Polo’s spread of grip by tenaciously holding the road. Astonishingly, it does this with Michelin Primacy 3s, instead of Europe’s Pilot Sport 4s, and thinner tracks than the model before.

Combine this with a crisp steering rack that’s been injected with the same precision, and insulation, as the current Mk VII Golf GTI’s electric system, and the Polo emerges as truly confidence inspiring.

And at least across terribly kept public roads, it backs its talents with an unflappable ride in both its Normal and Sport adaptive suspension modes. Its torsion beam-based MQB platform at first feels firm, fidgeting over most imperfections. Press on, though, and the dampers always have some travel up their sleeves.

The only thing we can tell you about the optional 18-inch wheels, with smaller 40-aspect ratio Bridgestone Turanza T001s, is they are a bit busier over really rotten roads. But unless you commute over multiple cattle grids then there is not much in it.

Nor can we tell you if the brakes are up to retarding the extra energy the Polo throws around since we didn’t use a racetrack. It’s also why we can’t comment on whether the Polo GTI can cut loose with its ESP switched to Sport. Despite the Polo’s innate friendliness and accessibility, the stability system remains undefeatable.

THE 2.0-LITRE TURBO ENGINE PULLS HARD FROM 2750RPM AND DOESN’T RELENT UNTIL REDLINE

FORD FIESTA ST 1.5-litre turbo inline-3, FWD, 147kW/290Nm, 0-100km/h 6.5sec 1262kg, price TBC Ford’s own ankle-biting warrior loses a cylinder, but hasn’t lost the magic if overseas drives are anything to go by. New suspension and a proper LSD promise the Polo GTI a challenge

At least on ride, handling, and comfort, the Polo GTI is more resolved. The new cabin drops the seat height to a lower level, for a better driving position, and feels roomier. The amount of cost-saving plastic seems appropriate, the high resolution 8.0- inch touchscreen is nicely integrated into the centre stack, and the standard tartan-themed seats support you well.

At $30,990, or $1000 more than the old DSG variant, it seems like a very reasonable ask. That value diminishes the pricier it gets, and that’s easly done with its options list adopting Audi’s package-focused mentality.

We find the standard fit Apple CarPlay system, adaptive dampers, and analogue dash more than acceptable. But if you’re particularly imageconscious, 18s and fake-suede seats comprise the pricey $3900 Luxury pack. The safety-minded will zero in on the radar cruise in the Driver Assistance package for $1400, while a crisp 300watt audio system, digital instruments and sat-nav await in the $1900 Sound and Vision pack.

Fully optioned this new Polo GTI can reach $38,190. While that’s not a first for the mini hot-hatch class, that’s more than the $37,990 Volkswagen Golf GTI Original three-door. It also breathes down the neck of the Hyundai i30 N, Renault Megane GT, or Ford Focus ST.

Stick to the basics, we say, and the Polo GTI will be a blast. Even if on paper it’s a little bit like one from the past.

TURBOCHARGING GIFTS THE ENTRYLEVEL 911 ALL THE PERFORMANCE YOU COULD EVER WANT OR NEED

02 PORSCHE CARRERA T

Back-to-basics base 911... supposedly

ADMITTEDLY, IT’S BEEN a while, but when I learnt the alphabet, T definitely came after S. Not so at Porsche, which has slotted the new 911 Carrera T in below the Carrera S. Then again, Porsche is notoriously contrary: until recently its hardtop Cayman cost more than the convertible Boxster, and then there’s the mechanical layout of the 911!

The confusion continues. T stands for Touring, bringing to mind a more relaxed, luxurious 911, yet Porsche’s press release speaks of a pared-back specification and less weight courtesy of deleted rear seats, no infotainment system, lightweight windows and reduced sound deadening.

As a result, in standard guise the T undercuts a standard Carrera by 20kg, however, as our test car has its infotainment as well as the seven-speed PDK dual-clutch, 18-way electrically adjustable seats and privacy glass, it seems safe to say the weight discrepancy has been nullified. Curiouser and curiouser.

Identifying a T is easy. Apart from the obvious badge there are grey mirrors, 20-inch alloys and Porsche adds PASM sports chassis (20mm lower), Sport Chrono Package and a sports exhaust as standard. Based as it is on the standard Carrera, the T uses the 272kW/450Nm tune of Porsche’s 3.0-litre twin-turbo flat-six. The PDK is unchanged, but the seven-speed manual benefits from a shorter final drive (3.59:1 instead of 3.44:1) and shortened shift lever for quicker shifts.

One thing is clear without driving a metre: if you want the ultimate Carrera T experience, pick the manual and keep away from those options boxes. In the case of our test car, what we’re left with is in effect a very nicely specced base Carrera. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Previous base Carreras used smaller engines and subsequently felt a little soft compared to their S bigger brothers. The switch to turbocharging changed this, making the S supercarquick and gifting the entry-level 911 all the performance you could ever possibly want or need on a public road (or a racetrack, to be honest).

This is a car that can sprint to 100km/h in 4.2sec, pass 200km/h in 14.5sec and hit 291km/h flat out. The engine is strong everywhere and makes a nice six-cylinder growl garnished with fireworks on the over-run. I wish it still had the old atmo 3.8; Porsche is probably sick of hearing that, but it’s true, I want my sports car to scream past 7500rpm. Nonetheless, the twin-turbo unit is excellent and despite the manual tweaks, the PDK really is the perfect partner. You’d really have to want to change gears yourself.

Wet roads allow easier access to the 911’s incredibly high limits. Wearing 245/35 front tyres and massive 305/30 rears, there’s massive grip, but at least on greasy, dirty roads you’ll experience the odd flare of wheelspin or rear-end wriggle. Not to say the 911 is in any way boring in the dry, but it’s not a car you wrestle with in the manner of a BMW M4 or Mercedes-AMG C63 – it’s a rapier, not a broadsword.

Like a rapier, the 911 is at its most effective when you master the correct technique. If you’re too greedy with the throttle too early in the corner, the front tyres will push as the car punishes your ineptitude – not in a way that’s dangerous, just in a way that reminds you you’re a nong behind the wheel.

Get it right and it’s the best feeling, especially here in the wet when Sports ESP lets the rear slip slightly and you can feel the car moving around underneath you. As ever with 911s – or Porsche sports car in general – the harder you drive it the better it gets, never once feeling the strain of continued punishment. Simply put, the 911 Carrera T is a brilliant drive, but in PDK guise, I’m just not sure why I’d choose it over a base Carrera.

03 DODGE CHALLENGER SRT HELLCAT REDEYE

Ultimate American bang can be had for Aussie bucks

IT MIGHT have one of the longest model names in the world, but the Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye is not trying to oversell itself. It’s just Dodge being specific. And with 15 variants in the US line-up, it needs to be. You don’t drive just an SRT Challenger these days. You drive a Hellcat, a Demon – if you’re very lucky – or, new for 2019, a Redeye.

Better still, thanks to Crossover Car Conversions (CCC), you can get your hands on the Redeye for about $228,000 (including the conversion, but not on-roads) in Oz. You’ll have to wait about six-to-eight months for the full right-hand drive switch to be completed, but some pre-orders have already been taken.

So what are those buyers getting – what exactly is a Redeye? Good question. It’s the 327km/h love child of the Dodge Hellcat and its big brother, the Demon. It swaps the Hellcat’s uprated-for-2019 535kW supercharged V8 and replaces it with the high-output version of the engine used in the dragtuned Demon.

So it gets an intake and post-run intake chiller, plus all the stronger parts. But not the huge, single-intake hood scoop. Despite growing new double nostrils on its bonnet it flows less air, which shaves off a few kilowatts. The Redeye also posts a maximum of 594kW/959Nm instead of the Demon’s 626kW/1044Nm... But we’re sure you won’t miss the 32kW/85Nm.

However, what might cause a few head scratches is specifying the body to house the engine. That’s because you can now get your Hellcat Redeye in narrow, normal body form, or with an 88.9mm-wider widebody option. The reality is there’s a lot more than cosmetics to consider. the car at the strip, that’s probably no great loss. There is also a skimmed-out version of the Demon, the R/T Scat Pack 1320 coming soon, which has a lot of that clever stuff. Expect to pay around $190K through CCC to have this parked in your Aussie driveway.

The benefit to the Redeye deleting all the Demon drag paraphernalia – notably the squashy Nitto drag radials – is that its top speed is not tyre-limited to 270km/h. Its Pirelli P Zeros are good all the way to more than 327km/h whenever the time, place and occasion should arise. It also gets six-piston front calipers instead of the Demon’s lighter-weight four-pots.

We drove the cars on some pockmarked roads and a super smooth racetrack hacked into the side of a mountain. Neither allowed us to experience the upper reaches of the car’s top speed, but we did get enough time behind the wheel to discover it still has a surprising amount of poise and balance. You steer as much with the throttle as the steering wheel, as per normal Hellcat duty. But the way it warps down the straights and flattens hill climbs is on a new, faster level.

On the road it still couldn’t be much more civilised, comfortable and easy to drive. The 0.3-litre larger – than the standard Hellcat – supercharger only fills the cabin with its slightly more baritone shriek when you really get stuck into the right pedal. Cruising at 100km/h in eighth (top) gear, the ZF box drops no fewer than four gears

ITS PIRELLIS ARE GOOD FOR MORE THAN 327KM/H WHENEVER THE TIME, PLACE AND OCCASION SHOULD ARISE

With the best part of 600kW trying to find its way to the road – via just two contact patches – you really need the biggest tyres you can get. Since the widebody cars come with 305-section 20-inch tyres instead of the standard 275s, they should be a default choice, even if the package does add a significant price premium.

Other than the Air Grabber bonnet, what the Redeye does not get from the Demon is all the specialist drag kit – the drag-tuned Bilsteins and software, the transbrake, the set of skinny front wheels and the bespoke crate packed with other drag-strip accessories. But, unless you are planning to really use when you mash the throttle. At that point, you are in no doubt which Challenger you are in.

Ultimately, the chances of seeing a Redeye, let alone buying one, in Australia are few right now. Luckily, the aforementioned Crossover Car Conversions can make the dream a reality – and the delivered cars will comply with our strict ADRs. They will charge you for the work, but the good news is that the Redeye retails in the US from just $69,650.

Even with the conversion done, you’ll be hard pressed to find a car with not just a longer name, but also more power per dollar.

04 LAMBORGHINI HURACAN

Drop-top Performante virtually matches coupe’s brilliance

THERE ARE SIGNS, here and there. If you rattle the Huracan Performante Spyder over a rough patch of tarmac at speed, you’ll be aware of the structure shuddering slightly around you. In the third gear with the throttle wide open it doesn’t feel as effortlessly accelerative as it might – although by the time 6000rpm has come and gone you won’t believe there could be another car that’s as fast. You might be faintly aware of the chassis getting a touch flustered when you ask it to do several things at once, too; such as turn into a corner while you’re hard on the brakes just at the moment the road drops away, for instance.

If you really go looking for them you can identify the handful of ways in which the Performante Spyder is compromised over the coupe. Its decapitated structure is less rigid and is saddled with 125kg of additional weight, but those things only make themselves known right out there in the margins. Most of the time the droptop model is every bit as deserving of your money as the fixed-roof car.

The Performante treatment is the same for both versions. The 5.2-litre V10 has been wrung out to 470kW/600Nm and the Spyder remains all-wheel drive. The weight saving is 35kg and is mostly down to a lightweight exhaust system and what Lamborghini calls Forged Composites (carbon fibre). The chassis is reworked for sharper dynamics and the tyres are grippy Pirelli P Zero Corsas.

The signature innovation is Aerodinamica Lamborghini Attiva (ALA), a neat system of electronically controlled flaps that can divert air one way or the other to increase downforce one moment and reduce drag the next.

Now, it does need to be said this car is fundamentally at odds with itself. On circuit the Performante Spyder will inevitably give away a few tenths. Out on the road, however, the topless model is no less thrilling and no less rewarding. It is a masterstroke.

That titan of an engine – more vocal now thanks to the trick exhaust and even better appreciated with the canvas hood stowed away – is arguably the most exhilarating combustion engine you can buy right now. The ride and damping are exquisite (on optional adaptive dampers, which includes a front axle lift), body control is absolute, grip levels beggar belief and the twin-clutch transmission is impossibly fast.

Headroom with the roof in place is tight, but it’s the fixed-back bucket seats that really let the side down. After 90 minutes or so at the wheel you’ll want to stop and go for a short walk, just to straighten your spine out. Still, what an epic bit of kit.

05 TESLA MODEL X P100D

Musk’s people mover does so at ludicrous speeds

ASK WHAT the quickest accelerating SUV is on sale, and the answer will change depend on where you look for it. Jeep says it’s the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, while Lamborghini promises it’s actually the twin-turbo Urus. But if Tesla’s performance claims, published on the brand’s US site, are anything to go by, the Model X P100D will silently shred them to bits.

It tags its ‘SUV’ with a 0-97km/h time of 2.9sec. Although it’s measured with roll-out, that’s 0.6sec quicker than the Jeep’s claim and it has got the Lamborghini’s 3.6sec 0-100km/h time covered. This advantage grows when you compare it to vehicles which match it on size, weight and seating capacity, like the Mercedes-AMG GLS63 and Range Rover SV Autobiography SWB.

Keeping that in mind, the performance offered by its twin-motor powertrain and supplied by a 100kWh battery is, well, electrifying. We didn’t get the chance to engage Ludicrous Mode, Launch Mode, and Max Battery power at the same time, because the latter can take a while to ready itself, but quick blasts down on-ramps show it will confidently keep up with its rivals. The experience is largely a physical one. G-forces strain your neck muscles but a high-pitched hum is all that stimulates your ears. Our butts reckon it’ll lazily nail sub-4.0sec 0-100km/h runs.

The Model X is the family hauler in Tesla’s range, using a larger bodyshell that’s 84mm wider, 246mm longer, and 239mm taller than a Model S, and almost 200kg heavier. But because the guts of its powertrain sit close to the ground, it initially changes direction with the same enthusiasm.

It also packs impressive mid-corner grip and traction. Press on, though, and this semblance of agility fades as physics overcome the grip of its huge 22-inch Goodyear Asymmetric 3s. Numb steering and soft air suspension also don’t help its case.

Regenerative braking pitches the Model X forward when off-throttle, even on a ‘low’ setting. Though thanks to its centre of gravity, and wide front track, the weight transfer blunts its entry speed, rather than upsetting its stability.

The X P100D seems expensive, especially when cheaper seven-seat performance SUVs sound better, are more luxurious, and feel better built. The Tesla fails to speak any meaningful design language, too, and lacks the detailed sophistication of a car nearing $300K when fully optioned.

Provided you’re not turned off by its suspiciously inconsistent panel gaps, rickety door clunks, or the logistics of using an electric car every day, few in its ‘class’ are this well-rounded. Or manage to pack such a silent, but deadly, ace up their sleeve.